Guilford College Commits

The Declaration, Volume 3, Number 3 : February 2000  [Spotlight]

By David Landis Barnhill

It was sunny and warm on April 22, 1999, at Guilford College. On the 29th anniversary of Earth Day, President Don McNemar took the podium on the lawn outside Founders Hall to announce the Green Campus Initiative: a new major in Environmental Studies had recently been approved by the faculty; the endowment for the Zvi Cohen Memorial Environmental Award (given annually to a student who has shown deep commitment to environmental activism) had just matured, becoming one of the largest student awards at Guilford; a Green Campus Committee had formed to direct and monitor environmental responsibility in campus operations. Having made those announcements, President McNemar then signed the Talloires Declaration.

The event marked the beginning of a serious commitment to environmental citizenship at Guilford. It was also a culmination of ten years of work. In 1989, as the 20th anniversary of Earth Day approached, I asked the administration to make Guilford a leader in a new movement of greening college campuses and make a public commitment to environmental responsibility. But the proposal was ignored and Guilford continued its old ways.

In the following years, Guilford saw sporadic efforts in recycling. Sometimes a student group would start a program on its own, but at busy times in the semester student volunteers were hard to come by, leaving overflowing recycling bins for the staff of Housekeeping or Grounds. At one point the administration asked the head of Grounds to initiate a recycling program, but gave no support or direction to the effort and it failed. The result for the staff was resentment and distrust concerning recycling efforts, and frustration for all. The faculty always had some major issue to focus on, leaving environmental concerns to “future consideration.” The lesson was clear: to be successful, an environmental program needs to have a clear institutional policy as well as a systematic and coordinated operation that involves all aspects of the campus.

1998 seemed to be a time to try again: some younger faculty members had recently arrived at Guilford and energized the Environmental Studies program; the student environmental group was particularly strong; and the Talloires Declaration provided a good model for institutional commitment. At an Environmental Studies conference at Harvard early in the fall semester, I spoke with staff from ULSF and Second Nature. The student environmental group arranged for Kevin Lyons (Director of Procurement and Contracting at Rutgers University) to come to campus in October to discuss the Declaration and the logistics of working toward its goals.

Then it was time for systematic efforts to gain support from all sectors of the college. After Lyons’ visit, a memo was sent to the faculty about the Talloires Declaration, informing them that it was under consideration. Students organized a petition drive in which they obtained several hundred signatures affirming the importance of environmental citizenship and urging President McNemar to sign the Declaration. An article about this issue was printed in the student newspaper. Three faculty members met individually with the Chief Financial Officer and the heads of Residential Life, Facilities, Housekeeping, Grounds, Purchasing, and Dining Services. Agreement was reached to establish a Green Campus Committee in which all departments would be represented, activities would be coordinated, and the work would not simply be dumped on an overburdened staff.

Two challenges remained: gaining official faculty support and getting the President’s signature on the Talloires Declaration. The faculty, however, was in the middle of a complex and tense curriculum change and simply would not consider the issue. It was certainly frustrating that we would have support from every part of the campus except the faculty, but we could not wait until the next year (which already had another major issue waiting for faculty consideration). So we went to President McNemar with the Green Campus Initiative, arguing that environmental citizenship was in keeping with Guilford’s Quaker tradition and the President’s call that the college focus on developing leaders of social change. The Declaration served the critical function of an existing policy statement that other college presidents had signed. McNemar agreed to join their ranks, and the Green Campus Initiative became an institutional policy.

Now, of course, comes the hard part: developing sustainable environmental practices in the day-to-day operations of the campus, overcoming inertia, financial constraints, and everyone’s busyness. Our first project last fall was to test a new recycling program in one of our dorms. With cooperation from students, Housekeeping, and Grounds, the program was successful and will be implemented in all other dorms in spring semester. This spring we also will decide on next year’s projects, including recycling in faculty and staff offices and posting classroom schedules by the light switches so we know when to turn off the lights.

Compared to those colleges that started greening the campus years ago and have a stronger institutional commitment, Guilford’s efforts are very small steps indeed. But thanks in part to the existence of the Talloires Declaration and the pioneering work at other campuses, we have started on the road to environmental citizenship.

David Landis Barnhill is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Religious Studies, Co-Chair of the Green Campus Committee, and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be reached at tel: 336-316-2357; fax: 336-316-2950; e-mail:

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